Words and their Penumbra: An Unsaid Burden of the Spectrum

It has been a long time since this blog has concerned itself with the issues of being autistic. Once again, we shall return and this is about one of the more common autistic problems which I refer to as “words and penumbra”. When people communicate, they communicate through not merely nonverbal queues but ones that have much to do with systems of cognitive bias. Specifically, System One. When I’ve offended people for stepping on a social landmine, it often has not actually been because of what I said and, in fact, they on a verbatim level don’t even know what I said. If asked to repeat it, they would remember it wrongly immediately thereafter. People usually speak in cliches. If not actual cliched phrases, cliched themes and inflections and they associate topics with each other.

Their brains, inside the prefrontal cortex analyzing the communication, are physically incapable without concerted training to the contrary to comprehend communications that are unexpected. If a sequence of words is delivered without the associated inflection, emotion, and on a seemingly unrelated topic then the other party won’t just be confused but will have their brain’s subconscious “correct” the interpretation to mean something they were expecting and so they won’t ask for clarification.

                People may imagine that most of how I may offend people being resultant from offensive behaviors and words on my part. That’s certainly happened but it is not the most common reason, by far. The majority of times I’ve offended people for spectrum reasons is because they misinterpret my inflection and emotion and infer something sometimes completely different to what I was attempting to convey. Also, on the occasions that it is my explicit words. More than half of the time that is because I’m using something that works with one subculture and am applying it with another subculture. As our culture’s media further balkanizes and people live in increasingly insular groups, the subcultural traits drift farther apart from each other. This all goes to say that even when someone can communicate relatively well, communicating with neurotypicals is almost impossible to master. There is not one set protocol of social queues, there are multiple subcultural protocols and using words doesn’t work without using them in a particular style and they have to be clearly close in subject to the preceding subject.

                This also happens with behaviors that are innocuous but are so uncommon that they are misinterpreted. One example in my life was having pictures of girls on my phone. Now, as mentioned in my previous article, I’m a tomgirl and prefer the platonic friendship of females. Yet, despite that, because coed friendships are less common, the pictures were regularly assumed to be creepy and it was assumed I was masturbating to them. Whether or not I explicitly said that, their initial assumption is that boys’ main interest in girls is sexual ergo phone pictures are obviously used for pornographic purposes. It wasn’t true and girls have pictures of each other on their phones all the time. As I prefer the platonic friendship of girls to boys, it makes perfect sense and is innocuous. There’s no due process or trial and no one thinks to verify their assumptions. It just becomes salacious gossip and a mess I have to try and clean up. In fact, my platonic interest in women has gotten me called a creep many times when it wasn’t true.

                The basic idea is the same. Society doesn’t have the classification of tomgirl and if it isn’t explicitly stated then society will classify the perceived item into one of its already existing classifications. It’s what the subconscious does when an item of communication doesn’t fit a preexisting cliché. If there is no memory of an item then the brain will classify the item with the closest thing it thinks is related whether or not an actual relation exists. What makes this all worse are two things, a cynicism bias, known as the negativity bias, and the fact that bad news spreads faster and harder than good news. It’s a recipe for horrid gossip. Lot’s of the things I’ve heard about myself are untrue and sometimes wildly inaccurate and can be traced to someone hearing inflection and emotion or something that wasn’t present in something I said.  It is very often said that people on the spectrum don’t understand nonverbal queues but what is perhaps much worse is that it works the other way, too. People accustomed to reading queues will read false queues from us. They’ll infer stuff that we don’t say, usually negatively, and then tell people about the weird crap they thought they heard. This is a regular shitshow for me. And one of the reasons I complain on this blog about how unforgiving people are is because of these misread queues that I didn’t send, the other party will hate me forever like I killed their dog.  To use psychological jargon, the neurotypicals need to get into System Two when communicating with me and not be in System One. Please and thank you.

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